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Water to Go

By Bob Hansen

When David Marcheschi was in college pulling an all-nighter during finals week, he had one of those aha! moments of which budding entrepreneurs dream. Craving a jolt of caffeine to stay awake but sick of stomach-churning coffee, he thought: If only my drinking water contained caffeine.

Marcheschi put the idea aside for a few years until he met a beverage company chemist who devised a way to mix caffeine with water sans the bitter taste. Marcheschi later found a well-water bottler, and a product was born: Water Joe, 16.9-ounce bottles of natural spring water enhanced with 65 teeth-grinding milligrams of pharmaceutical-grade caffeine.

"We get it to taste just like water," Marcheschi explains.

Water Joe debuted in Chicago two years ago. It was a hit among the caffeine-addicted futures traders at the Chicago Stock Exchange, who were going through withdrawals because the only beverage allowed on the trading floor is water. Now Water Joe is available in all 50 states and also in Germany and Guam. There's even a Water Joe Web site.

You can find the stuff in Santa Cruz at Coffeetopia (3701 Portola Drive). Owner Dave Larkin started stocking Water Joe a few months ago. "It sells very well, almost on par with our Calistogas," he says. "It's like drinking a cup of coffee. You can't taste the caffeine in it or anything."

Larkin likes Water Joe so much that he keeps a bottle in the glove compartment of his car. "It's pathetic," he admits.

Marcheschi markets Water Joe as an alternative to coffee and colas. His target audience is people who want a speed hit but are sick of bitter coffees or don't like sugary soft drinks. And, as Marcheschi likes to point out, it doesn't stain your teeth.

The distributor for Water Joe is M. E. Fox and Company, Inc. Owner Mike Fox says Water Joe falls in the category of a "functional beverage," a drink with some sort of added benefit. To boost sales of Water Joe among Silicon Valley high-tech workers, Fox plans to stock the catering trucks that make the rounds of computer companies.

Another product he's looking at is Aqua Surge, bottled water with five times the normal oxygen level. "It's an interesting market," he says.

Marcheschi, who operates out of Chicago, says that the 65 milligrams of caffeine Water Joe contains is well below what the FDA allows. But whereas most people can only stand so much coffee, the amount of water one can drink is virtually unlimited. It's no surprise, then, that serious speed freaks are going crazy on Water Joe.

"I love the stuff," says Paul C., a Water Joe devotee who's pushing the boundaries of the 12-step program he attends. "I drink it all day like, well, water."

Marcheschi says some people launch themselves into the day by making their orange juice and coffee with Water Joe. Others, he says, make Water Joe ice cubes for cola lifts in the afternoon.

"It's a coffee culture that we live in," Marcheschi says.

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From the July 2-9, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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